I decided to write this series because there has been a paradigm shift in the world of writing. Whereas before it was possible for a writer to remain outside the fracas of the online world and still have some sort of career (or even meaningful hobby) now having an active online presence is as much a requirement as wearing a business attire to your office job. In other words: for a writer to be taken seriously by readers as well as publishers they MUST participate in social media and in their own online marketing.
Right now I'm seeing a lot really good writers who should be in their prime whose voices are beginning to vanish due to a complete lack of understanding of how to promote themselves online. Hopefully these tips will help at least some drowned-out voices to resurface as well as for completely new authors to find and maintain connections to their ideal readers. This is not meant to be some kind of masterclass. In fact, it's a little more like summer school.
But by the end of it--with any luck--you too should be able to engage the new digital reality of life as an author.
How To Create An Online Presence
It’s finally happened: you’ve written a piece of fiction. You’ve either sold your masterpiece to a publisher or you’ve decided to go it alone on Smashwords. Either way the one thing you need to do now is create an online presence.
I do not care who you are, or what you write, or what problems you have—philosophical or existential—with social media. If you hope to have success you need an active online presence. Full stop.
Because this is the way readers will discover you and share their love of your work with each other and with you. And it’s also where you will reassure them that you are still alive and beavering away at your next project. It’s where you will build excitement for your creations and where your readers will share their excitement with others.
Your work will be competing with thousands of other titles. Your active social media presence is what keeps your work from being subsumed by the massive tidal (title?) wave of other works and promotional campaigns.
Social media also allows you to build relationships with other writers. It’s no exaggeration to say that your relationships with other writers will dictate the course of your career. They will inspire you, teach you, introduce you to important industry professionals and, most importantly, introduce you to new readers via cross-promotion.
In part one we will focus solely on the very first steps.
The First Decision
Before you build a website or attempt to take on Twitter—the autobahn of the social media world—you need to decide whether you will use your actual name or a pen name. I use my real name. Here’s why: my real name came with existing contacts in the form of my real-life friends. Even if they’ve never read a single word I’ve written my real-life friends have staunchly supported my career via likes, shares, retweets and general signal-boosting. Plus I am not the sort of person who is likely to maintain two separate social media presences (one private-one personal). I’m naturally extroverted and impulsive and having to pause to remember who I am supposed to be online vs. in real life would drain all pleasure from the experience of interacting with people.
If you are like me, using your real name—or some variation of your real name, like your initials or your first and middle names, is the way to go.
For example, if your name is Angelica June Hardesty and you decide to publish under A.J. Hardesty you just change your Facebook profile to “Public” and the name listed to A.J. Hardesty and you’re already in business.
But most authors use a pen name. There are many reasons this might be the choice for you. They range from as personal as hiding your hobby from your coworkers to as calculated as the deliberate creation of a auctorial brand identity. So long as you will legitimately post as your online persona, having a pen name is great. But it does burden you with starting from zero in terms of contacts, so you’re going to have to go deliberately court followers.
Whether you use a variation of your real name or a pen name it’s important to make sure the associated domain name is available for you to purchase: i.e. my name is Nicole Kimberling, so I own www.nicolekimberling.com. If your name is already taken you can either choose another name to write under or you can augment it with an applicable term like, “nicolekimberlingwriter” or “nicolekimberlingauthor.” You can check if your domain is taken by using the search function at sites like GoDaddy.
One note about our pen name: be aware that nowadays most assumed identities are eventually discovered, especially if you become popular. So understand starting off that your nom de plume is not an impenetrable shield of anonymity. It’s more like a business name. So remember to use business etiquette when posting.
Step Two: Build a Website
Take that domain you bought and just build one. There are plenty of platforms out there. Right now I recommend Squarespace, because it’s dead easy and has a great help section. But probably in a couple of years there will be an even easier platform to build on. If website-building is truly impossible for you to understand find a kid to help you. Like a relative. Or a neighbor. Alternately, most college students will be able to assist. Hire one to sit beside you for a day and help you figure out what you're supposed to be doing. Do not let them build your website for you. They're just there to help you learn because you're going to have to update this thing for yourself eventually, right?
To begin with, all you need are four pages:
1. A landing page with your author name on it plus a picture or logo.
2. A page that lists your publications. (With buy links.)
3. A biography with links to your social media and contact information
4. A blog, or news section where you can post announcements or free reads.
And viola! You have built your home base. You have created an exclusive venue to post your news, updates, free reads promotions, cat pictures…whatever. Now that you have a home it’s time to expand.
Finding Your Social Media Platform
At the time of writing this essay, the two major social media platforms of most use to writers are Facebook and Twitter. Here is an easy way to figure out which one to start using first:
1. If you like to write letters or to talk on the phone, start with Facebook.
2. If you prefer to send postcards join Twitter.
You can set up each of these social media platforms to post to the other automatically, but you need one primary mode of interaction that you can perform easily from your phone.
Why My Phone?
Because you must engage with social media every single day for the month before and one month after your release. It helps to be able to just use dead time—like when you’re in your dentist’s waiting room—to keep engagement up without cutting into your writing time. (Cause you’re already working on your next project right? Of course you are.)
One Last Thing
Set up a profile on Goodreads and link the blog on your website to it. (If you can't figure out how to do this, invite that kid back. Buy her a pizza or something for her trouble.)
So that’s how to create a very basic social media presence.
Tune in next week for “How to Make Friends and Find Your Social Media Voice.”
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